Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Transportation, Innovation, & Policy

I will be on a panel with "Ministers and industry leaders" at an OECD forum in Leipzig. As preparation for the discussion, I was asked to answer the following questions about transportation, innovation, and policy.

How can innovation help tackle the key challenges of climate change, energy supply, demographic change, urbanisation, traffic growth, congestion, and changes in the global economy?

I'm tempted to say that it is ONLY through innovation that we will address these challenges. The status quo delivers business as usual, and this leads us to where we don't want to go. Yes, there are many solutions that exist today that will help, and new products, services, and infrastructure that have yet to be developed. We need to think of innovation broadly. Innovation is not just developing alternative fuels. Innovation is also deliver up business models, marketing approaches, and political calculus that can make these existing solutions widely accepted and acted upon.

What innovations are required to get to a sustainable future?

I think a lot about the transition. Many of us have ideas about what the end game should look like, but I think we need more focus on how we get from exactly where we are today, to that future. What is the transitional path? Or at the very least, what are the first few steps.

We need to provide people worldwide, in all their various markets, means that provide them better access and mobilty than they experience today at lower cost, greater convenience, and reduced carbon footprint than they do today.

People are rational. If we provide them that choice, most people will choose the cheaper, more convenient way -- and let us make sure that this choice reduces carbon and congestion.

For me, the heart of the solution is dramatically more options. Today, most people have very few transportation choices: walk or bike in dangerous conditions, take over-crowded and inconvenient public transport, or "take control" and buy your own car to take you point to point. These few options necessarily lead us up the chain to increased car ownership and all the related negative consequences. We have to offer many more options so that cars are not the only solution. And we need to provide these options that suit people at all life stages, and income.

What are the policy innovations needed to allow new technologies and practices to flourish?

1. Stop subsidizing car parking, congestion, and pollution -- both in relationship to individuals as well as in infrastructure cost/benefit analyses about where to make the next infrastructure investment.

2. Allow owners of private vehicles to accept money in exchange for renting out their own vehicle, driving other people in it, or accepting money from people ride-sharing. We need to recognize that sharing cars and maximizing the number of people using each vehicle and getting mobility satisfaction out of each car is vastly preferred over the current single owner status quo.

3. Create a government insurance fund, into which innovators can buy insurance with capped liabilities, can buy insurance for their innovations while experimenting with low volumes. Once the innovation is successful, volumes build and traditional insurers will want to take over.

4. Consider creating low weight/low speed roads that have fewer safety restrictions on vehicles so that innovation and experimentation of vehicle types can flourish (and perhaps motorized and non-motorized transport can co-mingle safely).

5. Make sure that all government technology procurement in all sectors come with requirements for openness: open up data sets (as appropriate while protecting personal privacy) for public transport, traffic, etc., require that government procurements be based on open devices (open standards, multi-purposed), open networks, open standards, internet protocols, and open source. Government funded technology purchases, in all sectors, can then be leveraged and multi-purposed by innovators, providing them with low-cost access to a range of important inputs.

6. Make sure that transportation technology systems are integrated with the technology used in the rest of the economy. ie., electronic payment systems should use established methods; devices and spectrum allocations should not be for transportation use alone.

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